A restaurant’s success if only partially measured in profit margins, because restaurants are pillars of the community. To create an environment and an experience that keeps guests returning: this is a true mark of a restauranteur’s success. Customer loyalty should be a goal for every owner-operator, and nurturing a loyal following is so much more than menu design and happy hour deals.
When it comes to fine dining, customer loyalty might be harder to keep track of. Fine dining establishments are often reserved for special nights out, or perhaps customers come in at a seasonal menu change. The tools for measuring return visits in fast-casual restaurants have not previously been used at the fine dining level—it just wasn’t thought to fit.
But according to Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN), the Atlas Restaurant Group is trying to change that. “Baltimore-based Atlas Restaurant Group — which just launched its app and loyalty program this summer — believes that digital investments like rewards, guest data, and subscription perks can be just as useful for fine-dining restaurants,” NRN writes in this recent article. In fact, the group has created their own app, which includes in-app features for loyal customers. “The app allows customers to search for nearby Atlas restaurants, filter by cuisine, make reservations, order for pickup and delivery, and keep track of reward points, which are earned every time they eat at any Atlas property in simple dollars to points structure. In return for racking up points, guests will receive coupons for discounts, birthday perks, and more,” NRN reports.
Atlas Restaurant Group claims that creating the app and loyalty features will actually reduce their marketing and advertising spend, but it will also work to build a sense of community and belonging by creating a membership feel. Membership gives the hint of exclusivity so that customers feel, not only loyal to the product, but that they are a part of something special. NRN explains, “Atlas believes that giving its most regular guests the opportunity to pay $29 or $39 a month for exclusive perks will be a major boost. The annual program, which is launching at the start of 2024, will give customers discounts, and concierge service like access to hard-to-get reservations.”
What the program boils down to is an understanding of the modern restaurant guest, Millennials and Gen Z customers who want more than a meal out. They want an experience, and there are all sorts of reasons they will categorize an experience as desirable and meaningful. Good food is important; but so is insider information and perks.
The Atlas Restaurant Group suggests that other fine-dining restaurants haven’t used a loyalty program model because it’s considered more old-fashioned, a “step down”, or simply not needed—but the younger generations are suggesting otherwise. While a loyalty program at the fine-dining level might, at first glance, classify as “out of the box” thinking, it’s more a return to connection and neighborhood values that younger customers are hoping to turn society back toward. Restaurants in the fine dining category are wise to find a way to maximize on this desire for connection and investment.
Richard Weil, principal and owner of National Restaurant Consultants, points agrees. “Loyalty programs expand across all guests as evidenced by the long standing success of travel loyalty programs from airlines, rental car companies, and hotels. While fast casual and mid-range restaurant operators have also provided successful loyalty programs, the expansion of loyalty and rewards programs to the highest levels of dining will be successful with the disposable incomes of Gen Z.”